social scientists are trying to figure out why their numbers keep growing
Usually the young man seeks help at the urging of his family.
"I feel sad," he says. "I feel worried. I don't feel motivated."
"Jeff" has managed to get through junior college, but he just can't figure out what to do next.
"My parents have been fed up with me for two years," he tells clinical psychologist Perry Adler. "It's like I'm caught in a thick fog. I was always told as a child I had a lot of potential ...
"Nowadays I usually wake up at noon. I spend most of my days on the Internet and my nights hanging with friends," Jeff says. "I see some of them moving on and I feel like a loser. I want to do something with my life but I don't know what. I try to do stuff, but I lose the energy - I can't get things started."
Young men like Jeff (a composite character based on case studies) present themselves disturbingly often to Adler, associate director at the Teenage Health Unit of the Herzl Family Practice Centre at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital.
"Once we've ruled out a clinical diagnosis, one explanation is that we're dealing with someone who is struggling with not feeling passionate about anything. For him to commit to something feels like a waste of time."
While the majority of young men are getting through school, finding work and eventually raising families, there is evidence of rising numbers who are dropping out of school, not looking for work, endlessly playing video games, even living at home in their parents' basements.
Parents often see troubling signs of what's to come when their sons are still in high school.
"We very often have seen parents coming in talking about teens who are languishing, spending much of their time on the Internet, not fulfilling academic responsibilities, not fulfilling their potential," Adler says.
It's an epidemic, says American family doctor and psychologist Leonard Sax, author of the books Why Gender Matters and, most recently, Boys Adrift.
"I've spoken with many boys in Grades 1 to 3 across the U.S. and they've told me that school is a stupid waste of time," Sax says. When I ask them why, they say, 'I got in trouble for throwing snowballs,' or 'because I wouldn't sit still,' or 'on account of I drew a picture of soldiers stabbing each other.'"
In other words, schools are not boy-friendly places. Problem is, reading drills are really boring for a boy, who is hardwired, some psychologists believe, for rough-and-tumble play at that age. He's distracted, underperforms, gets scolded, hates school.
Finland, the country that ranks at or near the top in all international school rankings, is distinctive in this way, Sax points out: Children in Finland don't begin formal schooling until age seven, compared with age five in North America.
By the time they reach the end of high school, the sex divide has become a chasm, especially in Quebec, where the dropout rate is the highest in the country at 11.7 per cent for boys, exacerbated by the percentage among francophone males - a whopping 19 per cent in 2006.
And while more young people are educated than ever before, the sex balance in higher education continues to tilt. In their 2007 Business and Labour Market Analysis for Statistics Canada asking why most university students are women, researchers Marc Frenette and Klarka Zeman examined the ramifications of the startling slide in the number of males in higher education.
According to the 1971 census, they report, 68 per cent of 25-to 29-year-old univer-sity graduates were male. Ten years later, 54 per cent were male and by 1991, the number was down to 51 per cent. By 2001, only 42 per cent of university graduates were male.
According to the Youth in Transition survey, 38.8 per cent of 19-year-old women had attended university by 2003, compared with only 25.7 per cent of 19-year-old men.
This large sex divide has ramifications, write Frenette and Zeman. Women are delaying the age at which they have their first child, and will likely reduce the sex wage gap. Also, given the propensity of higher-educated individuals to marry other higher-educated individuals, "this may lower marriage prospects for young men" as well as for educated women.
In the past, marriage and family were markers of adulthood, writes Michael Kimmel in his book Guyland, but in a world where young women put off children for careers, where job security is a thing of the past and their parents' values hold little allure, young men can postpone adulthood almost indefinitely.
They're even looking for work less. Labour market statistics from 2009 indicate that the employment rate for youth between the ages of 15 and 24 dropped by five percentage points from 59.5 per cent to 54.6 per cent.
They're also living at home in record numbers - and more of those are male than female. Between 1981 and 2006, the proportion of young adults age 20 to 29 who resided in their parental home rose 16 percentage points to 43.5, from 27.5 per cent.
Even though most men, like women, are getting through school without dropping out, there's no question boys are distracted, says Concordia University sociologist An-thony Synnott, author of Rethinking Men: Heroes, Villains and Victims.
"Young men get addicted - to video games, to drugs and alcohol," he says. And gambling; research shows that the largest cohort of online poker players are males between the age of 14 and 22.
Men between the age of 18 and 34 are the biggest users of online video games, writes Kay Hymowitz in Manning Up.
Movies that young men watch - the Jackass movies are an example - almost idealize stupidity, Adler says. "They're almost saying it's cool to be rude and oafish, to be destructive, not very productive."
Adult manhood has, in the past, been equated with marriage and fatherhood, Hymowitz writes. Today, a young man can continue to hang out with his buddies and delay or even avoid those responsibilities. Without male role models to usher him into manhood, he is travelling without a "life script" and finally, after boyhood and adolescence, "he arrives at pre-adulthood with a distinct sense that he is dispensable, that being a guy is a little embarrassing and that given his social ambiguity, he might as well just play with the many toys (and babes - he hopes) his culture has generously provided him."
One way of treating young men, after looking at the strengths they've exhibited in the past, Adler says, is to encourage them to become behaviourally active.
"This means they take on small challenges to begin with. Happiness comes from a sense that you're making progress toward goals.
"You can't think your way out of a paper bag. You've got to act your way out."
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